Mendi - Orientation

Identification. "Mendi" refers to the people of the Mendi valley. In precolonial times, Mendi had no collective name for themselves; nowadays, they still speak a variety of languages and dialects, and Mendi Valley clans have active sociopolitical relationships of long standing with peoples living elsewhere (e.g., in Ialibu, Tambul, Kandep, the Lai Valley, and Kagua).

Location. The Mendi Valley is located at 6° to 6° 10′ S and 143°35′ to 143°45′ E, in the Mendi Subprovince of the Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. Flanked to the east by Mount Giluwe and to the west by limestone ridges separating it from the Lai Valley, the Mendi is about 40 kilometers long and V-shaped. Most Mendi live north of Mendi town (the provincial government center, altitude about 1,620 meters above sea level). The topography of the valley is fairly rugged: gardens are planted up to about 2,400 meters above sea level. There is a large boggy area in the far northeast around Lake Egari. The valley receives about 280 centimeters of rain per year with only a slight wet/dry seasonal contrast. Approximate average daily temperature range from 7° to 24° C, with high-altitude areas regularly experiencing mild to severe crop-damaging frosts.

Demography. The first government census was conducted in 1956, but no figures are available before patrol reports dated 1959-1960 and 1961. Based on these reports, anthropologists estimate the Mendi population of the late 1950s to be about 24,000. At the time of the 1976 government census, some 28,500 people lived in the Mendi Valley. Population density is moderate by highlands standards, and Mendi are not land-short.

Linguistic Affiliation. Mendi call their language "Angal Heneng" (meaning "true words/talk," or normal speech). Dialects or closely related variants are spoken in the Lai Valley and by Wola people living in the Was (Wage) to the west, as well as by people living in the Nembi to the southwest and south, where Angal Heneng and Kewa intersect in the speech of the Anganen, called "Magi"—about 55,000 speakers in all. These languages have been classified as the Mendi-Pole Subfamily which, together with Wiru, Kewa, Huli, Enga, and some others, belong to the West-Central Family (totaling 330,000 speakers). However, in the northeastern Mendi Valley, people speak primarily Imbonggu (or Aua)—a language that is mostly heard in Ialibu Subprovince to Mendi's east (and which, as a dialect of Hagen, belongs to the Central Family of languages spoken in the Western Highlands and Chimbu Provinces). These Imbonggu speakers are technically "Mendi": they belong to Mendi Valley tribes and intermarry with other Mendi. Generally, in the Mendi area as elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, there is no necessary relationship between language and cultural identity. That is, those who consider themselves to have a common culture may speak quite different languages; conversely, people speaking the same language may have distinct cultures.

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